Greetings to all.
I have been interested for some time in the question-begging character of the logic of natural selection. This is old hat, of course, but just in a nutshell: a new well-adapted trait must first exist in an individual before it can be selected, so while natural selection could potentially explain the proliferation of such a trait throughout a population, it could never explain its origin.
Of course, the Darwinist will say, No problem, new traits are thrown up by chance due to random genetic mutation.
There are two things wrong with this reply, however. The first is a conceptual point. Even if it were the case that every mutation at the level of the genome were indeed random, it would still be the case that this genetic change would have to be translated into a new viable phenotype, and the developmental process by which that occurs is itself highly adaptive and functional (i.e., teleological).
One might conceivably still try to claim that the developmental process is just more mechanism put into place by past rounds of selection. However (and this is the second point), there is empirical evidence that this response is inadequate.
One kind of evidence relates to the amazing plasticity of the organism, such as is found in cases like Slijper’s goat and Faith the Dog (one may read about the former case in Mary Jane West-Eberhard’s book, Developmental Plasticity and Evolution; the latter case may be viewed on YouTube). In these cases, quadrupeds born missing their forelimbs have been able to learn to walk upright on their hind limbs, with accompanying extensive remodeling of their skeletons, musculature, and nervous systems. It seems hard to account for this adaptive capacity through standard selectionist reasoning!
Another kind of evidence relates to botany, which I have only learned about recently. There is a school of Botanists (H.R. Lerner and G.N. Amzallag) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who are explicitly embracing the neo-Lamarckian idea that plants are able to respond to stress, not only by adapting physiologically, but by restructuring their genomes, such that the adaptive phenotypic responses are heritable.
Lerner pulls no punches in drawing the implications of his research for neo-Darwinism:
“It is difficult to imagine how competition between organisms that
have been disabled by one, or several, mutations(s), such as
exemplified by genetic diseases [references deleted] could possibly be
the mechanism of evolution. Disabling mutations can lead to only
degeneration of organisms less well-equipped to survive than the
nonmutated parents. The whole concept that variation per se, together
with competitive selection, is sufficient to generate evolution is a
hypothesis that is simply not based on facts.”
H.R. Lerner, “Introduction to the Response of Plants to Environmental
Stresses,” in idem, ed., Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses:
From Phytohormones to Genome Reorganization. New York: Marcel Dekker,
1999, pp. 1-26. (Quote is on p. 17.)
On the next page, he also says this:
“It is true that it is not the opinion of the majority of authors, but
science is not a matter of majority, but rather, what is a better
approximation of reality.”
At any rate, all of this obviously raises the question of the source of the inherent adaptive capacity of living systems. Here, I probably part company with most of you in believing that the answer to this question may well lie at a deeper level in the physics of the “living state of matter.”
But be that as it may, we can all agree that there is a lot more going on in living things than meets the Darwinist’s eye.